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In 2017, classical music fans like me finally had a streaming service we could call our own: Primephonic. In my review at that time, I lauded Primephonic’s web-based service, and lamented that the only major missing piece was a mobile app. That lament has since turned to joy (mostly) with the launch of Primephonic’s streaming app for Android and iOS.
What makes Primephonic different?
So, what makes Primephonic different from the likes of Tidal, Apple Music and Spotify? It’s a specialized music service designed by classical music lovers for classical music. While major streaming services might be fine for the casual classical music listener, they fall short when it comes to catalog selection, searching, metadata support, and descriptions.
For example, today’s major streaming services give you the option to search by artist, album, or track. Primephonic goes well beyond those rudimentary options, letting you search by composer, name, catalog number, orchestra, conductor, artist, year, and label.
But it gets even better. When I searched for LSO (London Symphony Orchestra), Primephonic returned a result set broken up by artist, recordings, playlists, albums, and tracks. Choosing “recordings,” I could further sort the list by popularity, alphabetical order, recording date, or duration. These nuances are important to classical music aficionados.
It goes without saying that you can create your own playlists and bookmark favorites in the app.
Browse by specific periods
Primephonic’s meticulous attention to classical music taxonomy really makes the service shine. I could browse by specific classical music periods, such as baroque, classical, romantic, early 20th century, late 20th century, or 21st century. Primephonic has chosen beautiful imagery to represent each period.
When I drilled down into the romantic period, for example, the app broke out the section into popular romantic composers, well known works of the period, and latest albums. It’s perfect for both deep dives and casual explorations into periods you love and those you want to experience for the first time. You simply cannot find this type of classification and exploration in mainstream services.
During my review period, I pitted Primephonic against my Roon server (where I have Tidal integrated). Even with Roon’s unrivaled metadata support and rich integration, if I tried to search for Elegy in G Major by Tchaikovsky, it was far easier and more intuitive to drill down and find that work in Primephonic. And speaking of Roon, I do wish that Primephonic had direct integration with Roon—call that my next major feature request!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention two other key elements of the service: Curated playlists and articles. When you first launch the app, you’re greeted with a selection of four highlighted “editor’s choice” or “new releases.” The selections changed frequently during my review period, giving me a fresh experience. The homepage also gives you instant access to features playlists, composer playlists, iconic alums, choral playlists, and instrumental playlists. The latter is yet more evidence of why Primephonic is the classical music service of choice. I could also drill down into works dedicated solely to flute, bass, horn, cello, organ, timpani, harp, viola and a handful of other instruments.
In certain instances, Primephonic gives you in-depth articles or descriptions. If I chose a playlist about Tchaikovsky, for example, I could read a brief paragraph about the composer and a description about the curated list. If I chose to explore by composer, at the bottom of the composer’s works I could read a brief (but detailed) biography of the composer’s life and major works.
All these elements connected me more to the music, and gave me a greater sense of experiencing classical music relative to vinyl and CDs.
Subscription and streaming options
When you first download the app, you’re given a free two-week trial period. Primephonic parks a permanent banner at the top of the screen letting you know you are in a trial period and how many days you have left.
Primephonic’s subscription comes in two tiers: Premium, with a streaming quality up to 320Kbps MP3, and Platinum, which offers lossless streaming up to 24-bit FLAC. You have monthly and yearly prepaid options for both plans. The yearly plan gives you two months free. Premium monthly costs $7.99 per month and premium yearly is $79.99. Platinum monthly costs $14.99 per month or $149.99 per year.
The Primephonic UI doesn’t let you know what quality you’re streaming at. That’s another feature I’d like to see added to the service. For example, I’d like to know if I’m streaming a 16-bit/44kHz or 24-bit/48kHz original file.
Of course, audio quality also depends on your wireless connection. Primephonic uses adaptive streaming so that if you’re experiencing bandwidth constraints or dropouts, it will downsample the streaming quality so that your music plays uninterrupted. For those who insist on music quality over convenience, you do have the option of turning adaptive mode off.
Under account settings, you can define separate quality settings for Wi-Fi and cellular streaming. This is especially helpful for people who want to keep an eye on their cellular data bill. The service will give you up to four options (depending on your subscription tier). Normal is 128Kbps MP3, high is 256Kbps MP3, superior is 320Kbps MP3, and full lossless simply says it is “up to 24-bit lossless.” Wi-Fi defaults to the highest quality setting.
The most glaring drawback to the current version is the absence of an offline mode, so you can download selected playlists or albums to your mobile device and play them when you don’t have a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. Primephonic told me that offline playback will be coming soon as an update to the app. Right now, the app is misleading because if you do happen to be without an Internet connection, you’ll get a prompt to download playlists, albums, or recordings to listen to them offline. The future update to support an offline mode can’t come soon enough.
I could play Primephonic tracks through my car’s CarPlay-enabled audio system. However, Primephonic lacks full Apple CarPlay support.
While I could play/pause, advance, and rewind tracks, I couldn’t navigate through playlists, browse favorites, or bring up curated music onscreen. In a nutshell, if you have a Bluetooth-compatible speaker, you can use the service just fine, but you won’t get advanced integration capabilities.
Superb audio quality
Sitting down to do some reference listening, I tested Primephonic with my pair of Focal Clear headphones using the lossless streaming setting with my iPhone XS and Periodic Audio Nickel amp and an Android-based Fiio X7 Mark II hi-res DAP. I found Primephonic’s streaming quality to be excellent. When the recording contained it, classical works had excellent dynamics with a rich, deep sound stage. I was very pleased by the overall quality of the service.
Adaptive streaming worked well, but if the quality fell down to lower levels, the music flattened out with a dull top end and the obvious drawbacks inherent with MP3’s compression scheme. Again, Primephonic’s offline mode can’t come soon enough.
The perfect classical music streaming service
Primephonic’s mobile app for Android and iOS brings this outstanding classical music streaming service to smart devices. Primephonic’s mobile app reinforces why this is the perfect classical streaming service for the die-hard or the novice. The app’s classical music classifications, powerful searching, hand-curated playlists, and excellent background articles remain unrivaled.
The only glaring downside to the app is the lack of an offline mode so you can play your music without resorting to a Wi-Fi or cellular connection (though that will be addressed soon). If you like classical music, you’ll love Primephonic’s streaming service.